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Pro-Kremlin Influencers Trying to Link Buffalo Shooter to the Azov Battalion in Ukraine

May 31st, 2022 15:27

In one of the more despi­ca­ble influ­ence oper­a­tions seen by GIOR, the Insti­tute for Strate­gic Dia­log is report­ing that pro-Krem­lin influ­encers and oth­ers have been attempt­ing to link the shoot­er in the recent Buf­fa­lo, New York school shoot­ing to the Azov Bat­tal­ion in Ukraine. Accord­ing to the ISD report:

May 16, 2022  On Sat­ur­day 14 May, an 18-year-old white man embarked on a mass shoot­ing at Tops Super­mar­ket in Buf­fa­lo, New York, appear­ing to tar­get African Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos. Ten peo­ple have been con­firmed dead at this time. The shoot­er left a 180-page man­i­festo espous­ing white suprema­cist and accel­er­a­tionist ide­olo­gies, con­spir­a­cies such as the Great Replace­ment the­o­ry, and a range of oth­er extrem­ist nar­ra­tives. The manifesto’s front page con­tains a meme includ­ing a Black Sun, also known as a Son­nen­rad. This is an extreme­ly com­mon sym­bol designed by and for the Nazis under Hein­rich Himm­ler. This sym­bol also appears on cloth­ing worn by the shoot­er in images cir­cu­lat­ing online. Since the imme­di­ate after­math of the shoot­ing, pro-Krem­lin influ­encers and oth­ers have attempt­ed to link the shoot­er and his actions to the Azov Bat­tal­ion, a reg­i­ment of the Ukrain­ian army asso­ci­at­ed with neo-Nazi and white suprema­cist ide­ol­o­gy. This Dis­patch exam­ines the key actors spread­ing these nar­ra­tives and the mech­a­nisms by which they are doing so. Many of the nar­ra­tives attempt­ing to link the shoot­er to the Azov Bat­tal­ion hinge upon a loose thread between Bren­ton Tar­rant, the Christchurch ter­ror­ist, and the ref­er­ences made to him in the Buf­fa­lo shooter’s man­i­festo. Accounts and chan­nels ISD analysed claimed that Tar­rant had either been trained by, or had ties to, the Azov Bat­tal­ion. How­ev­er, the New Zealand Government’s com­mis­sion into the Christchurch attack found no evi­dence of ties to the group. It is also impor­tant to note that the Azov Bat­tal­ion are a small minor­i­ty sub­sumed into the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary forces. How­ev­er, they receive media atten­tion because of their asso­ci­a­tions with neo-Nazism. These asso­ci­a­tions are used as a nar­ra­tive to besmirch the Ukrain­ian resis­tance to Rus­sia, with pro-Krem­lin pro­pa­gan­da claim­ing that Russia’s inva­sion was part­ly intend­ed to ‘denaz­i­fy’ the country.

Read the rest here.

The Wash­ing­ton Post has described the Azov Bat­tal­ion as follows:

Of all the Ukrain­ian forces fight­ing the invad­ing Russ­ian mil­i­tary, the most con­tro­ver­sial is the Azov Bat­tal­ion. It is among Ukraine’s most adept mil­i­tary units and has bat­tled Russ­ian forces in key sites, includ­ing the besieged city of Mar­i­upol and near the cap­i­tal, Kyiv. With Russ­ian forces with­draw­ing from areas north of Kyiv last week and pos­si­bly repo­si­tion­ing in south­ern and east­ern Ukraine, which Moscow has declared as its pri­ma­ry focus, the Azov forces could grow in sig­nif­i­cance. A train­ing site for mem­bers of the Azov Bat­tal­ion to prac­tice shoot­ing live bul­lets in Kyiv on March 24. (Hei­di Levine for The Wash­ing­ton Post) But the battalion’s far-right nation­al­ist ide­ol­o­gy has raised con­cerns that it is attract­ing extrem­ists, includ­ing white suprema­cist neo-Nazis, who could pose a future threat. When Putin cast his assault on Ukraine as a quest to “de-Naz­i­fy” the coun­try, seek­ing to dele­git­imize the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment and Ukrain­ian nation­al­ism as fas­cist, he was part­ly refer­ring to the Azov forces. While they are now fight­ing for a Jew­ish pres­i­dent whose rel­a­tives were killed fight­ing the Nazis, they have con­tin­ued to be fod­der for Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da as Putin seeks to con­vince Rus­sians that his cost­ly inva­sion of Ukraine was necessary.

Read the rest here.

In March, the Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report (GIOR) report­ed on an exten­sive Twit­ter thread debunk­ing an arti­cle claim­ing Russia’s bomb­ing of a Mar­i­upol the­ater was a false-flag oper­a­tion car­ried out by Ukraine’s Azov Battalion.

In April, we report­ed how some US influ­encers respond­ed to the evi­dence of war crimes com­mit­ted by Russ­ian troops in Ukraine by blam­ing the Azov Battalion.